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For a social and fair Europe – conference discusses European labour market and global supply chains

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving up unemployment in the EU. The unemployment rate for September was 7.5%. According to its September report on employment and the social situation in Europe, the European Commission expects the figure to rise to 9%. It seems all the more important, then, to keep breathing life into the European Pillar of Social Rights (“the Pillar”), the establishment of which was proclaimed in 2017. The latest state of play with regard to the implementation of the Pillar, with its 20 principles, and the gaps in the member states’ welfare systems that have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic will be on the agenda for discussion in the first session of the Conference of chairpersons of the committees responsible for labour and social affairs and for economic cooperation and development in national parliaments and the European Parliament. Another topic of the first session, to be hosted by Dr Matthias Bartke (SPD), chair of the Bundestag Committee on Labour and Social Affairs, will be the current European Commission proposal for a directive on adequate minimum wages in the European Union. The whole event, which will take the form of a video conference because of the Covid situation, will be streamed live at www.parleu2020.de from 2 p.m. on Monday, 9 November 2020.

In the second session of the conference, beginning at 4.15 p.m., Uwe Kekeritz (Alliance 90/The Greens), deputy chair of the Bundestag Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development, will host a debate focusing primarily on due diligence and accountability requirements for German companies with regard to global supply chains. The latest findings show that action is needed in this area, for only one in three businesses in the EU currently reviews its global production chains for adherence to human rights, environmental protection and other standards. The European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, has responded to these findings by announcing an initiative on corporate due diligence and accountability in supply chains for EU companies for the second quarter of 2021. The German Presidency of the Council, with the support of the Bundestag and Bundesrat, is pressing for a new EU action plan on human rights and decent work in global supply chains.

Bartke: measures needed to protect people’s livelihoods

In the view of SPD Bundestag Member Dr Matthias Bartke, the welfare state, like the European Union, is “not something abstract”. Both could play an important part in the lives of individuals, he said ahead of the conference. According to Dr Bartke, “Many people in Europe have had their first experience of the social safety net this year”. Order books had shrunk, and many businesses had had to remain closed to combat coronavirus. “In this situation we need measures that will protect people’s livelihoods”, stressed the chair of the Labour and Social Affairs Committee. In Germany, helpful instruments such as short-time working allowance were available for this purpose.

One hundred billion euros provided by the solidarity instrument SURE

The EU had also taken resolute action, he said, by creating the new SURE temporary support instrument. “With SURE, for example, we have created a temporary unemployment reinsurance scheme through which a sum of 100 billion euros is being made available to protect jobs and workers from the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic”, said Dr Bartke, who added that he was eager to hear “what the participants from the other EU member states tell us of their experiences in this crisis” and was hoping for a discussion on “how countries can cooperate more closely, particularly in view of the expected rise in unemployment”. To this end, he said, a “European compass” was offered by the European Pillar of Social Rights, the 20 principles of which were being gradually implemented.

Discussion with delegates: European Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, European Parliament Vice-President Klára Dobrev and Federal Employment Agency Chairman Detlef Scheele

Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, will make a statement and answer questions from conference participants. Keynote addresses will be delivered by Klára Dobrev, Vice-President of the European Parliament and a member of its Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, and by Detlef Scheele, Chairman of the German Federal Employment Agency.

Uwe Kekeritz regards a Supply Chains Act as “more than desirable in terms of development policy”

Uwe Kekeritz, spokesperson on development policy for the parliamentary group of Alliance 90/The Greens in the Bundestag, who is hosting the second conference session, considers a European Supply Chains Act to be, in his own words, “more than desirable in terms of development policy”. To combat poverty and inequality in the Global South, he says, it is essential to end the exploitation of people and of nature. In his view, a legislative instrument would also be worthwhile for the EU and its member states which have come together to form the world’s largest economic area, since it would create a level playing field for all market participants. As Mr Kekeritz emphasises, “Exploitative conditions of production will not then give ruthless companies a competitive edge”.

Eliminate grey areas and create legal certainty

In addition, such legislation would eliminate legal grey areas and create legal certainty, said Mr Kekeritz. Consumers could rest assured that the goods they bought had not been produced in inhuman conditions and at the expense of the environment. “And workers in the countries of production or extraction would benefit from better working conditions”, he added.

Mr Kekeritz hopes to persuade his colleagues from the 27 member states to exert due influence on their national governments “so that the proposal championed by the competent European Commissioner, Didier Reynders, will be supported and will soon be implemented”. Commissioner Reynders himself will address the conference delegates. Lara Wolters of the European Parliament   Legal Affairs Committee and Dr Annette Niederfranke, Director, International Labour Organization (ILO) representation in Germany, will also deliver keynote addresses. (hau/03.11.2020)

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